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Keith Dookeran v. County of Cook

August 26, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan B. Gottschall


Plaintiff Keith Dookeran filed suit against Cook County ("the County") alleging that the County discriminated against him on the basis of his race and national origin and retaliated against him in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. The County has now filed a motion to dismiss the case pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that Dookeran's claims are precluded by the doctrine of res judicataand the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Because the court agrees that the claims are barred by res judicata, the motion is granted.


Dookeran's claim stems from the termination of his employment at John H. Stroger Hospital of Cook County ("Stroger"). Dookeran, a surgeon and surgical oncologist, was hired at Stroger in 2000 subject to biennial reappointments. See Dookeran v. Cnty. of Cook, 920 N.E.2d 633, 636 (Ill. App. Ct. 2009). Neither on his initial application nor on his 2002 reappointment application did Dookeran indicate that he had ever received a formal reprimand from a previous employer. In fact, quite the opposite-on the 2002 application, he affirmatively indicated that he had not been reprimanded in the past four years. This representation was false. Within the preceding four years, Dookeran had been reprimanded for "creating a hostile work environment" at Mercy Hospital, his prior place of employment. Indeed, his position at Mercy Hospital as director of surgical research and associate program director of the general surgery residency program was terminated as "a consequence of [Dookeran's] unprofessional conduct toward Mercy Hospital employees." Id. at 637.

Dookeran's omission went unnoticed until April 2004, at which point he again applied for reappointment at Stroger. On that application, Dookeran disclosed his Mercy reprimand for the first time. The application went to his department chair, Dr. Zaren, who then submitted it to Stroger's credentials committee pursuant to Stroger's medical staff bylaws. The credentials committee investigated the issue, and then recommended to the executive medical staff ("EMS") that Dookeran be denied reappointment. EMS in turn referred the matter to the peer review committee, which recommended a twenty-nine day suspension of Dookeran's clinical privileges. EMS adopted the recommendation, but increased the suspension period to thirty days, which would have required Dookeran to report the suspension to a national databank. By virtue of this consequence, Dookeran's right to a hearing and appeal under the bylaws was triggered.

Dookeran requested such a hearing, and a five-member hearing committee heard testimony. At the close of the hearing, the hearing committee submitted its findings to EMS. The hearing committee found that Dookeran did not meet his burden of establishing that he did not willfully falsify his 2002 reappointment application. In light of that finding, and in view of the hearing committee's belief that Dookeran lacked insight into his anger management issues, the hearing committee recommended to the EMS that Dookeran's staff membership be suspended or revoked. The EMS nonetheless continued to recommend a thirty-day suspension to the medical director and joint conference committee. However, the joint conference committee voted to adopt the hearing committee's recommendation to revoke Dookeran's staff membership. The joint conference committee sent that recommendation to the Cook County Board for final action, and the Cook County Board denied Dookeran's reappointment application on June 20, 2006.

On August 1, 2006, Dookeran filed a petition for a common law writ of certiorari in the chancery division of the Circuit Court, Case No. 2006-CH-15376, seeking review of the Cook County Board's decision. See Chi. Title Land Trust Co. v. Bd. of Trustees, 878 N.E.2d 723, 727 (Ill. App. Ct. 2007) (explaining that the writ is available to obtain court review over administrative actions where the act conferring power on the agency does not adopt Illinois' Administrative Review Law, 735 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 5/3-101). Meanwhile, on October 16, 2006 Dookeran filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights ("IDHR") and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). In those charges, Dookeran alleged that he had been denied privileges and discharged due to his race (black) and national origin (Trinidadian). He also stated that he was discharged in retaliation for similar charges he had filed on June 27, 2005.

The Circuit Court reached an initial decision on January 30, 2008. The court agreed that Dookeran's behavior was troubling, but it found that the hearing committee's recommendation was not supported by the facts. The court vacated the denial of reappointment and remanded the matter to the hearing committee "to recommend a lesser sanction." Dookeran, 920 N.E.2d at 643. The County sought reconsideration; the court denied that motion, but modified its judgment by ordering the Cook County Board to suspend Dookeran's clinical privileges for thirty days. The County appealed, and Dookeran cross-appealed. In reviewing the Circuit Court's judgment, the Illinois Appellate Court engaged in a two-step review process: first, it examined the agency's findings of fact to determine if those findings were "contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence"; and second, it evaluated whether "the agency's factual findings provide[d] a sufficient basis for concluding 'cause' for discharge exists." Id. at 643-44 (citations and quotations omitted). Because the appellate court was convinced that the factual findings were supported by the evidence and provided a sufficient basis for discharge, that court reversed the trial court's order and upheld the denial of Dookeran's 2004 reappointment application, "thereby terminating his employment at Stroger." Id. at 441. Dookeran sought leave to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, which was denied. See Dookeran v. Cnty. of Cook, 930 N.E.2d 408 (Ill. 2010).

On January 28, 2011 the EEOC issued a Dookeran a right to sue letter, and Dookeran has now filed a complaint with this court, alleging that the County discriminated against him based on his race and national origin "when it denied him medical privileges and discharged him, as well as by subjecting him to different terms and conditions of employment." He further claims that these acts were undertaken in retaliation for filing his 2005 EEOC charges.


Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the defendant may seek to dismiss the case if the plaintiff "fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." The court accepts as true all well-pleaded facts and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Stayart v. Yahoo! Inc., 623 F.3d 436, 438 (7th Cir. 2010). Although Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) only requires the complaint to contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," the complaint also must include "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The relevant question is whether the complaint includes enough factual allegations to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id.


As noted, the County has moved to dismiss on two bases: first, that Dookeran's claims are barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, as lower federal courts "do not have jurisdiction to conduct direct review of state court decisions," or to review claims "inextricably intertwined" with a state court's judgment, see Kansas City S. Ry. Co. v. Koeller, --- F.3d ----, 2011 WL 3132278, at *6 (7th Cir. 2011); and second, that his claims are precluded by the doctrine of res judicata, as he is attempting to "re-litigat[e] issues that were or could have been raised" before the Illinois courts, and there has been a final ...

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